Human beginnings in Botswana?

James Troughton explains research into the birth of humans

James Troughton
18th November 2019
Scientists have claimed to trace humanity's ancestral home to Botswana, a country in Southern Africa, where we supposedly lived for 70,000 years until the climate changed.

This massive landscape was home to humans 200,000 years ago according to Professor Vanessa Hayes, a geneticist at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia.

Due to changes in the Earth's tilt and orbit, rainfall was brought to the North-East and South-West which created lush green corridors that humans then moved towards.

This conclusion was formed following the analysis of 1,217 samples of mitochondrial DNA, which is the genetic material found in most cells. All of this DNA was taken in a study on people living in South African regions today, such as the Khoisan.

Hayes et al claimed in their report that the lineage and its sub-branches point towards an "ancestral home" that spreads from Namibia, across Botswana and into Zimbabwe.

Following the DNA discovery, they began to look at the geological, archaeological and fossil evidence where they found that a gigantic body of water called 'Lake Makgadikgadi' was once present in the area.

Hayes said, "It would have been very lush and it would have provided a suitable habitat for modern humans and wildlife to have lived."

Scientists believe that those who migrated North-East formed farming populations, whilst those that moved south became coastal foragers instead. Hayes claimed, "Essentially, these ancestors were the first human explorers."

However, the new claims are not without their criticism. Chris Stringer, a researcher who studies human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, said "I'm definitely cautious about using modern genetic distributions to infer exactly where ancestral populations were living 200,000 years ago, particularly in a continent as large and complex as Africa."

He elaborated, "Like so many studies that concentrate on one small bit of the genome, or one region, or one stone tool industry, or one 'critical' fossil, it cannot capture the full complexity of our mosaic origins, once other data are considered."

Stringer claimed that our Y-carrying ancestors may have originated from western Africa and that "we are an amalgam of ancestry from different regions of Africa" that interbred with other human groups outside of the continent.

Rebecca Ackermann, an archeologist at the University of Cape Town, was also fairly critical of the findings. She said, "Drawing sweeping conclusions about places of origins from analyses of this tiny part of the modern genome is deeply problematic and outdated."

Human origins are a complicated and tangled web. It would appear as though these new claims are somewhat overly simplistic.

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